Thursday, March 26

Turley Talks To Maddow About War Crimes

Jonathan Turley talks to Rachel Maddow about President Obama's resistance to war crime prosecutions of the Bush Administration.

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Here is the transcript of the conversation:

Joining us now is Jonathan Turley, professor of Constitutional Law at George Washington University Law School. Professor Turley, thanks so much for coming on the show tonight.



MADDOW: So President Obama says all the right things to “60 Minutes” about the Bush administration‘s torture policy. And the Obama administration is planning on releasing these torture memos, repudiating the policies, promising to work to change them going forward.

In terms of lining themselves up with the Constitution, how substantive are these moves? Where would you put the Obama administration‘s policies on these issues as we speak tonight?

TURLEY: Quite frankly, I have to put it very, very low. Yes, the fact that he is having a dialogue with Dick Cheney that he finds irritating is understandable. I mean, Vice President Cheney comes off as sort of the cranky uncle you can‘t get rid of at Thanksgiving dinner.

But there is more to it than that. And the reason Obama seems very irritated by it is that he is responsible for the conversation. Because he‘s the one that is blocking a criminal investigation of Vice President Cheney and President Bush and other Bush officials. It is like a bank robber calling up and asking him to debate bank robbery.

President Obama would say, “Listen, fellow. That is a crime.”

But of course, he hasn‘t said that with Dick Cheney. He can‘t say that.

Instead, he says, “How long will it take for us to reconcile our values?”

These are not just our values. They are the law.

He should be saying what you are describing is a crime. And if he would allow an investigation to well-defined war crimes, Dick Cheney would not be making public statements. He would be surrounded by criminal defense counsel.

And yet the president refuses to allow the investigation of war crimes. And we just found out the international Red Cross, also the definitive body on torture, found that this was a real torture program. And yet, the president is having a debate with the guy over whether it was good policy.

MADDOW: In this case, we keep running up against politics versus law, politics versus law. For the legal case here, is all the president needs to do - the only thing he needs to do is get out of the way of prosecutors who would take this as a matter of law regardless of the politics here?

TURLEY: Rachel, let‘s be honest here. It is just as bad to prevent the investigation and prosecution of a war crime as its commission because you become part of it. There‘s no question about a war crime here. There is no need for a truth commission.

You know, some people say, what do you need, a film? We actually had films of us torturing people. So this would be the shortest investigation in history. You have Bush officials who have said that we tortured people. We have interrogators who have said we tortured people. The Red Cross has said it. A host of international organizations have said it.

What is President Obama waiting for? And I‘m afraid the answer is a convenient moment. The fact is he has been told by his adviser that it would be grossly unpopular to investigate and prosecute Bush officials. Well, that is a perfectly horrible reason not to follow principle.

When we talk about values, the most important one is that the president has to enforce the laws. He can‘t pick and choose who would be popular to prosecute.

Should he be appointing a special prosecutor? What should he be doing?

TURLEY: He should be appointing a special prosecutor. There is no question about that. This is the most well-defined and publicly known crime I have seen in my lifetime. There is no debate about it. There is no ambiguity. It is well known.

You‘ve got people involved who have basically admitted the elements of a war crime that we are committed to prosecuting. We don‘t need a truth and reconciliation commission because we are already reconciled to the rule of law. There is nothing to reconcile to.

What the people have to reconcile are the people who broke the law. They need to reconcile with the law. And he happens to be having a debate with one of those people as if they are talking about some quaint notion of policy.

MADDOW: I wonder, ultimately, if the fact that Dick Cheney continues to talk about this issue and continues to promote it as if it is a solution and something the Obama administration ought to feel ashamed for not having continued will ultimately be the thing that creates the political room the Obama administration feels that they need in order to proceed legally. They may just need to get that mad.

TURLEY: Rachel, I wish that were true. But you know, it is sort of like every great villain in every bad movie, dialoguing to prevent something happening. You know, Cheney is dialoguing. He‘s trying - the more he talks in public, the more he makes this look like a policy and not a legal issue which is exactly what he wants.

And the reason that the Obama administration is now pulling back on the truth commission is because they have finally realized that if the truth commission actually investigates, it will be the shortest investigation in history. There is no question there is a war crime.

And at the end, people are going to wonder how and why did you block this? It is like a live torpedo in the water and it is going to come back and hit him. And that is why President Obama is beginning to pull back.

The easiest thing to do is get out of the way, say, “You know what, this is not about values. This is about the law. I took an oath to God to enforce the law. And you know what, fellow? You are going to be a target of an investigation. And maybe you are not guilty. Maybe you are. But it is not for me to decide it. It‘s for a special prosecutor.”

MADDOW: Jonathan Turley, professor of Constitutional Law at George Washington Law School, thank you for joining us tonight.

TURLEY: Thank you, Rachel.

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